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Barbara O’Neal is not only a beloved longtime contributor here at WU, she is an award-winning, internationally published author of eleven novels. Her latest is called THE ART OF INHERITING SECRETS, and releases on July 17th!

Said bestselling author Patricia Sands (The Love in Provence series) of the book:

“O’Neal’s clever title begins an intriguing journey for readers that unfolds layer by surprising layer. Her respected masterful storytelling blends mystery, art, romance, and mayhem in a quaint English village and breathtaking countryside. Brilliant!”

“This is my first mainstream book in four years!” said Barbara. “I’m very happy to be publishing with Lake Union, who’ve done an amazing job on this book.”

Read on to learn more, and big congratulations to Barbara!

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

BO: A San Francisco food editor discovers that she has inherited a derelict English estate along with a lot of secrets. To discover the truth of her mother’s life, she’s going to have to do a lot of digging.

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

BO: There is more to it than the simple inherited house and secrets angle—which is, by itself, a ton of fun. Who wouldn’t want to run away into a world where you’ve suddenly discovered you’ve a pedigree and a title?

It is part mystery, part love story, part family saga.

Olivia is grieving her mother deeply and trying to understand why she never shared such important knowledge. I have a passion for the connection between England and India during the 20th century, so the book is rooted in that uneasy relationship.

And finally, this is my love song to the English countryside, which is in as much danger from development as any other part of the first world. There are few places on the planet so amenable to the human being as England in summer, or a place with better strawberries.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

BO: Olivia has just finished with a brutal year—her dog died, she had a bad car accident and her mother died—and now she has to decide what she wants for the rest of her life. She has a fiancé and a fabulous job back home in San Francisco, but the possibility of something else, both harder and more satisfying, in England. She isn’t sure she’s up to the undertaking.

To make her inheritance work, she first has to unravel who is opposing her inheritance and who stole the funds she should have had to restore Rosemere Priory. The house is literally starting to fall down. Some of the villagers can be prickly and there is a lot of money to be made on the manor lands.

Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

BO: Honestly, this book was a joy from the moment it arrived, practically whole, one morning during the Writer Unboxed conference in 2016. It springs directly out of many of my loves—England and 20th century history and food (of course) and the Indian diaspora to England in the 50s.

I had to do a ton of research, of course. So much research, but I love that. When it came time to create the authentic, upscale, British-Indian fusion restaurant and menu I wanted for background, I found myself waaaaay over my head—Indian culture and food are enormously complex, and I needed help. A Facebook friend, Kaumudi Marathe, memoirist and cookbook author, gave me a ton of help and direction. I also asked friends Monica Pradhan Caltabiano and Sonali Dev to read for me after the first draft for cultural sensitivity.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

BO: When I started the book, I wanted an escape from real life in the worst way. It was a challenging time personally and in the world, and I love that I can now offer that escape to others. Come away to the English countryside, take a break, let your spirit rest!

Learn more about The Art of Inheriting Secrets on Barbara’s website, HERE, or by exploring the book feature below. Enjoy!

About

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January, 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~40 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, or join our thriving Facebook community.

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Photo Credit: Steve Corey: Celebrate Life:)

I hear a lot of “what if” and “if only” and “If I could just” and “So and So has what I want!” I’m not immune to it, but I am growing ever more Aware of it. Circuitous thinking, round and round it goes, endless. We don’t remember wishing for that something because when we reached that goal, we were already circling to find the next thing, and that for which we wished for prior has already been left behind. I like goals; I’m competitive. But dang it! When do we celebrate? Where’s the WHAHOOO! . . . ?

Here’s what I imagined would happen when I received word that my first novel Tender Graces (and guess what? I never liked that title! ha! Now I said it! I wanted Mountain in the title; yeah, strong and mountain and kin. Like the Russian version they titled “Above the Mountain is Light” by Katherine Madzhendi, and there’s Mad in my Russianized name! haha! Er, where was I? oh yeah: here’s what I thought would happen when I received word my novel) would be published: I’d jump up, scream WHAHOOO!, hug anyone who happened to be around, email gamillions of people, yell N’YA N’YA N’YA N’YA N’YA I TOLD YOU SO! to those who said, “How’s that hobby, you know, that cute writing hobby you got going there? Still plugging along? *knowing looks abound* . . .” and then go celebrate with Ketel One over ice with a tiny sliver of lime.

Here is what really happened: I’m sitting alone in the dark. I’m sipping very strong black French Roast, the sun just slipping over the Smoky Mountains. I read the email of how the wonderful Bellebooks/Bell Bridge Books (Thank You, Bellebooks!) wants to offer me a contract. There is no sound but my old dog’s snoring. I stand, walk dazed around the little log house, and it is hours and hours later before I tell anyone—because I might jinx it. Because it may not be Real. Because something will happen to screw it up. Because they will publish me and five people will buy my book and they’ll regret they published me. And so on and so forth, blah diddity blah blah blah. Nothing new here, yammer yammer.

And in a blink of a flea’s eyelash WHOOOSH!, the first novel becomes the second, then third, and soon a novella, and fourth novel, and fifth. Have I done any real celebrating? I guess not. And I’ve let slip more than 4 years since that last novel, what with just over 4 years ago two incomes becomes All Me Income and writing feels more a luxury she can’t afford and she’s okay with that, sure she is; she doesn’t miss the long hours writing so she can instead work work work to pay her mortgage and bills; she had her moments of writing writing writing writing and writing WRITING WRITING WRITING WRITING, and now she must Not Writing. Oh Terrible Angst and Woe! Well, my sweet lil log house is, also, worth sacrificing something precious, even when it sucks to sacrifice. (But really, yes, it is rather sad, don’t you think? The lost books I still need to find? If I could catch my financial breath?)

It all feels as if it were some dream. That some other woman sat in this very room and tippity tapped her fingers over the keys and out spilled hundreds of thousands of words that were bound between a front cover and a back cover and it’s all MAGIC! Right? Magical hard damned work of which I am damned proud.

Do I miss the “luxury” of writing full time, most of the time, any time-tic-toc-time? Would you miss your left arm  if it suddenly disappeared? (And if you don’t have a left arm, I’m sorry.)

Right now, I stop, look over my right shoulder, and nope, not a dream at all of course; there they are, my (so-far) Life’s Work shining out. At one time, I received some decent monetary gains from these books, and though I still receive royalties, they really are becoming really super-duper teeny tiny; *teehee!*

I need to celebrate what I see over my right shoulder!

Hold on, I’m going to jump up and yell AWOOOOOO! Okay, I’m back . . . thanks, whew, I needed that celebratory howl for what I have accomplished. Now you celebrate your accomplishments, and don’t sit here and tell me you do not have any! Let’s hear it: I accomplished *fill in blank* and I’m going to celebrate it!

Toast with some bubbly champagne (yeah, I said that like “sham-pag-nee” so I could remember how to spell it), hug yourself really hard, or hug someone and let them hug you back, eat something decadent. Do a dance of joy. Yell WHAAHOOO! or howl  if you like. Come on! Right now! I’ll wait . . . *Jeopardy music here*

Anyone who writes knows the long, hard, frustrating, maddening journey, and knows the work has only just begun once one writes The End. The tweaking, the querying, the rejections, and then finally the hoped-for acceptance, or perhaps the decision to self-publish, are only parts of the complete package that make the word Author, or, gulp, Successful Author (whatever that is!). Sure, there are “overnight successes” who push out a book in three days and it’s picked up by a big time publisher and hits the New York Times bestseller list two minutes later and movie rights come, and zillions of people go see it and then buy the book for all their zillion friends, and the author is soon rolling buck-nekkid on his/her bed atop a pile of cash. In reality, most “overnight successes” have worked their asses off to make their dreams come true. (I’m secretly wishing to be  rolling buck-nekkid on a pile of cash *teeheehee* except that sounds kind of gross and dirty-nasty and not dirty-nasty in a sexy way but in a yucky way . . . .)

Yet. Here we are where we are and where we are is the culmination of all this hard work and sacrifice. I acknowledge you and your accomplishments because I know the bumpy-assed road we travel on the way to the unknown.

Every itty bitty step towards a goal should be acknowledged, and every Goal Accomplished should be celebrated. *Raising my jittery-shaky-handed-coffee cup to you*

So will you first acknowledge, and then celebrate, your successes? Right now? How?

About Kathryn Magendie

Kathryn Magendie is an Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author of five novels and a novella, as well as short stories, essays, and poetry —Tender Graces was an Amazon Kindle Number 1 bestseller. She’s a freelance editor of many wonderful authors' books and stories, a sometimes personal trainer, amateur/hobby photographer, and former Publishing Editor of The Rose & Thorn Journal (an online literary journal published with Publishing Editor Poet/Songwriter Angie Ledbetter). Magendie’s stories, essays, poetry, and photography have been published in print and online publications. From her porch over-looking the Great Smoky Mountains she contemplates the glow of Old Moon—Cove Crow and his family speak to her and she listens.

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Writer Unboxed by Gwen Hernandez - 3d ago
This is not my view.

Beyond a basic orientation to the software, what’s the number one thing people want help with in Scrivener?

Compile. No contest.

In April, I introduced Scrivener 3’s new approach to compiling (exporting) with a post about section types. Section types are foundational to the new compile feature, so if you need to bone up on the topic, I recommend you start there and then come back. (Or at least check it out later.)

Ready? In this second installment on compiling, I’m going to help you export your manuscript to a Word document, but the process is similar for other types of output.

Why might you want to compile to a DOCX file?

  • Submission to an agent or editor.
  • Submission to a contest.
  • To give your manuscript to a critique partner, friend, or beta reader.
  • To read through your manuscript and make notes.
  • Compatibility with Microsoft Word (duh), Apple Pages, and other word processors that will open or import DOCX files.

TIP: DOCX files are based on Rich Text Format (RTF), which is compatible across more word processors, and may do a better job of exporting images, lists, and tables than DOCX. RTF is also best when exporting for Apple Pages. If you’d prefer to create an RTF, choose Rich Text (.rtf) in step 2 of “Choosing Your Format” below.

Whatever your reason, you can create a lovely DOCX without too much fuss. I promise. Before you start, be sure you’ve set up your section types under Project>Project Settings>Section Types.

Choosing Your Format

The format determines what the final output will look like, including the margins, fonts, line spacing, first-line indents, chapter headings, scene dividers, and paper size. For this example, we’re going to choose a submission-style format.

  1. Go to File>Compile (or click the Compile button on the toolbar). The Compile window opens.
  2. From the Compile For dropdown at the top, choose Microsoft Word (.docx).
  3. In the Formats column at the left, select Manuscript (Times). This format also works for other types of output, like RTF, Print, PDF (if not creating a paperback book), and HTML.

Adjusting the Look

If you’ve never assigned section layouts for this format, you’ll see a yellow box in the Section Layouts column (center) warning you about it. Even if you have, you’ll want to ensure they’re correct for the current project.

The following image shows common elements of a section layouts “tile” and what they represent. I selected this layout because it shows most of the possible elements, but this one would work best for those who do not use chapter folders, and have one document for each chapter.

To assign a section type to a section layout, do the following.

  1. Click the Assign Section Layouts button in the center column. The Section Layouts window opens showing a tile with an example of the section layout’s settings for each layout.
  2. Select a section type in the list at the left.
  3. Scroll to find a section layout tile with the desired formatting on the right, and click it.
  4. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until all section types are assigned.
  5. Click OK. The Section Layouts column now displays your choices.

Choosing Your Content

In the right-hand column, make sure you’re viewing the Contents pane. If not, click the Contents button at the top (looks like a bulleted list).

Now select the files in your manuscript that you want to include in the compiled output.

Assigning Section Types

Be sure that the section type for each file is correct. If not, you can change it by clicking the dropdown menu under the Section Type column heading.

Section Types appearing in gray italics have been automatically assigned based on your rules in the Project Settings. When you manually assign a section type that differs from the Structure-Based rules you set, it shows as black, regular type.

Modifying MetaData

Click the MetaData button at the top (looks like a luggage tag) to make sure your name and book title are correct.

Setting Compile Options

Click the gear button at the top to adjust the compile options. This is where you can include/exclude annotations, comments, and footnotes, and remove other formatting globally from your output.

Compiling

When you have everything set as desired, you’re ready to compile.

  1. Click Compile.
  2. In the Save As text box, type the output file name.
  3. Choose a location for the output file.
  4. If you don’t want the file to open automatically after compiling, deselect the option to “Open compiled output in.” Or, you can change the software (e.g. you want to open a DOCX in Pages instead of Word).
  5. Click Export. All of the Compile windows disappear once your file is created.
Compiled DOCX displayed in Pages Troubleshooting the Easy Stuff

If you aren’t getting the look you want, here are a few quick things to check.

  • Have you given your files the correct section types (in the Contents pane)?
  • Have you assigned the right section layout to each section type (in the Section Layouts column, under the Assign Section Layouts button). For example, if you only wanted auto-numbered chapters but you’re getting chapter numbers and their titles too, change the section layout for your chapter folders’ section type to something like to Chapter Heading.
  • If you want the font to be the same throughout the manuscript, you can override the font settings elsewhere.
    • At the top of the Section Layouts column, there’s a Font dropdown menu.
    • Choose the desired font from the list.
  • If your front matter documents don’t have page breaks between them, make sure their section type is assigned to New Page rather than As Is.

If you can’t find a layout that does what you want, you can create your own. Right-click any compile format and choose Duplicate & Edit to create your own. If you were familiar with Compile in the prior version of Scrivener, much of this will look familiar. You can edit the section layouts under the Section Layouts tab, which is similar to the old Formatting tab.

Worst case, you can get your manuscript really close to what you want and make it perfect with a few easy tweaks in Word or Pages. Have fun!

What questions do you have for me about compiling, or Scrivener in general?

About Gwen Hernandez

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies, Productivity Tools for Writers, and the “Men of Steele” series (military romantic suspense). She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes, in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com.

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Writer Unboxed by Kathryn Craft - 4d ago
photo adapted / Horia Varlan

One of the first things an editor wants to know about your novel is how many points of view you’ll use. In the broadest strokes, who gets a point of view will determine the structure of your story; down to the smallest detail, it will determine how perspective will illuminate it.

Will this be a story sunk deep inside one character’s perspective, as Garth Stein chose to do through Enzo, a dog, in The Art of Racing in the Rain? Will it alternate first-person perspectives that define and deepen the conflict between adversaries, as in Andre Dubus III’s The House of Sand and Fog? Or will it represent the seven principal parties impacted by one young girl’s fight for self-determination, as in Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper?

Such a decision shouldn’t be arbitrary. Some readers choose the novels they read for the way they allow a new perspective through which to view the world.

Not all POV decisions can be executed perfectly. Dubus’s plan worked out just fine until about three-quarters of the way through, when his story demanded that the reader know something that only a non-POV character was experiencing—which led to an odd chapter in the third-person perspective of a secondary character. Picoult—or perhaps her publisher—anticipated that her multiple points of view would be so hard to track that they put each character’s chapters in different fonts.

I could tell you never to do that because it’s cheesy and against all principals of good book design and if your novel is that confusing just simplify it, but this is how much readers care about such things: My Sister’s Keeper, which came out in 2004, still carries an Amazon ranking of #12 in contemporary literature. And Dubus’s novel, with that glaring POV switch, was an Oprah pick, a National Book Award finalist, and a #1 New York Times bestseller.

The most important thing is that these novelists told great stories through perspectives that would serve their telling.

So, how might you handle sixteen perspectives?

That’s how many WU contributor Bryn Greenwood employed in her New York Times best-selling novel, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Why would she even attempt that, and how did she get away with it? Let’s see what we can learn from her mad skills.

Why choose multiple perspectives

Greenwood’s story zeroes in on a volatile cultural taboo: age of sexual consent. As much as I enjoy exploring topics that make us twitch, even I had never thought to look at this issue. I mean, we should be protecting our youth from adult predators, right? Case closed.

But what if the greater danger comes from the child’s own parents?

To raise this question in a way that would make her readers think—all while managing the emotions of readers whose opinions are entrenched—Greenwood chose a very loose POV structure that allowed her, in any given chapter, to dip into the perspective that would best illuminate that part of her story.

Her opening gets right to the heart of things, fittingly enough, through perspective. We meet her protagonist, Wavy, through the first-person voice of her cousin Amy, whose mother took in the five-year-old when Wavy’s parents had to do some jail time. From the outset we see Wavy the way others do: voiceless (Wavy rarely speaks) and odd (she won’t eat in front of other people). The second chapter moves to her next caretaker’s perspective—her grandmother’s. Only on page 23 do we finally hear from Wavy, and by this time, we start to get that the novel’s very structure is suggesting how hard Wavy will have to fight to make her own opinions matter in the world.

At the tender age of eight, Wavy meets her baby brother at her grandmother’s funeral. As her parents resume “guardianship,” Wavy becomes his main caretaker while her father cooks meth in a nearby barn and her mother sleeps the days away in a haze. Meanwhile, one of her father’s drug runners, 24-year-old Jesse Joe Kellen, who is obliged to Wavy for helping him after a motorcycle accident, starts to check in on her. He takes her to school. Pays her school fees. Cleans up the house. Cares for her. They stare up at the stars together, learn the constellations. They grow to love one another.

So who else do we hear from? Kellen, of course. That helps us know that his motivations aren’t of the creepy pedophile variety. Wavy’s teacher gives us an important outside perspective, as she thinks Kellen is Wavy’s father. Two of her father’s girlfriends, determined to win her father’s sexual favor, give us a look at the rarified world in which Wavy learns to be female. As Wavy grows old enough to try to seduce Kellen, her Aunt Brenda gives us the reasonable arguments any protective mother-figure might pose. Later, the perspective of the judge who jails Kellen for statutory rape provides the legal context.

Simplifying numerous perspectives

Why did I struggle so with Picoult’s seven perspectives, yet found Greenwood’s sixteen so easy to follow? For one thing, Greenwood showed such restraint, lol: in an interview at the back of the book, she explains that she had drafted more perspectives, but several didn’t make the cut. If you want more on this topic, I recommend that reading.

But the story is clarified through its unrelenting forward movement. Greenwood’s chapters do not flip back and forth through time, nor is one event explored through multiple perspectives; you can rely upon a confident, ever-spooling chronology to order the narratives, and trust Greenwood’s POV choices to effectively deliver that part of the story.

Oh, and there’s one more thing Greenwood does right: she does not attempt to converge those sixteen perspectives into a single beam of white light at novel’s end. Age of consent invokes deeply ingrained moral sensibilities and one novel isn’t going to change that. Wavy and Kellen’s story provides a prismatic look at the issue, and despite its satisfying ending, the prism still stands, casting a full rainbow of colors through its facets. Can you say, “perfect book club read”?

In the end, a perspective-heavy, issue-oriented novel need not change minds. It must simply open them. Greenwood’s sixteen perspectives do just that.

How did you decide on the POVs for your own work in progress, and what were you hoping to accomplish by doing so? Do you have other examples of stories that worked well precisely because of the choice of POV? Other thoughts on use of perspective in Greenwood’s book, if you’ve read it?

Wish you could buy this author a cup of joe?

Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!

About Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Her work as a freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads writing workshops and retreats, and is a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. Learn more on Kathryn's website.

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I have a confession to make. I’m writing this post the night before it’s due to go up. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds, bearing in mind the 12 hour time difference between Western Australia and New York, but it’s not good either. Ideally, I like to give myself a few days to iron out errors and glitches. But sometimes the rest of my writing work, or indeed the rest of my life, gets in the way, and that makes me uncomfortable. Like the White Rabbit, I hate being late. I prefer to be in control: of my work, of my situation, of myself. It’s no surprise that on the planner to pantser spectrum, I’m right at the planner end.

So what got in the way this time, leaving me on the verge of offering one of those ”I am Juliet’s dog and she asked me to write this post” pieces? Deadlines. Most of us have them, and it’s in their nature to sneak up on us. The deadline for my current novel, Harp of Kings, is four days after this post goes up.

It would be nice to have a manuscript finished and polished around six weeks before the deadline. I used to do that. Then it could be put away for a while and checked over with fresh eyes later, in time for final tweaking. I wasn’t so efficient this time around, but I do have a complete, revised, and carefully checked ms ready to go. Revisions included cutting around 16,000 words to get the ms closer to the required length of 125-130K. I don’t think those cuts did the novel any harm, though it’s always painful to delete hard-won words. Gone are the days when I could get away with a 200K-word doorstop.

So to priorities – I wonder how other writers determine which tasks come first and which can wait? While on the last frenetic gallop to get this book finished, my online presence dwindled. I visited my Facebook author page daily and responded as quickly as I could to posts; I answered questions on Goodreads, but not always promptly; I responded to emails from readers, again with quite a delay. But my blog, linked to my website, was completely neglected, and various snail mails from readers sat on my desk for far too long unanswered. That was bad. Readers are an author’s lifeblood, and those who make the effort to send handwritten letters deserve quick and considerate responses. Readers who don’t use Facebook, and there are plenty, missed out on months of news about the forthcoming series and other projects. But the novel had to be written. And finished on time, not only because of a contract, but because there’s another contract and another deadline coming up in (ulp!) just over two months, for a work not yet finished.

Don’t get me wrong; I love having work to do, and not only because it pays the bills. But I’d like a magic formula for managing writing, editing, revision, promotional activities, social media and the demands of the non-writing life, which in my case includes looking after my crew of needy little dogs, being a mother and grandmother, and the standard range of domestic tasks. Failing magic, maybe a useful list would help. Where do we start?

I have some suggestions. I’m hoping your comments will expand the list.

Start with self care. It’s too easy to set that aside when the pressure is on. Get enough rest. Find time to relax with friends and family. Read an old favourite book. Do some exercise you enjoy. Listen to music. It can be hard to make time for those things when it feels as if every moment you spend away from your desk is adding to the looming pile of tasks to be done. But looking after your mental and physical health is key to being able to cope.

Write down your tasks. I need two lists, one for writing-related work and one for everyday things like getting the car serviced, medical appointments and so on. Identify jobs that are relatively quick to complete (writing a blog post is one of those, or should be; answering emails from readers is another) and those that are urgent, and get them out of the way first. There’s nothing like ticking items off a list to boost your morale. If you’re handling a long-term project, such as writing a novel, you might give yourself milestones to be reached along the way. A scene, a chapter, a section; revising a certain number of chapters. Untangling a plot snarl. You may want to tick off a daily or weekly word count or page count. Or as an alternative, plan to spend a set amount of time per day on that project, whether it’s a three hour stretch or three one-hour sessions, or less, or more. It does help to break down that massive task into short, achievable steps.

Celebrate your successes in some small way. High-five your dog! Eat a chocolate! Take a good look at the deadlines for your projects and work out what is achievable over the life of each; put up key dates and targets on a spreadsheet or your calendar. Look after your monster nicely. It will become a lot less terrifying. Ask for help; you may be surprised by how much support is available. Weigh up what is important NOW and what can wait for later.

Some authors manage to keep writing novels at the same time as teaching, travelling, blogging regularly, reviewing and making promotional appearances. I salute their energy! Not all of us can maintain that kind of work rate. I had to make the decision not to travel outside Australia this year in order to manage my various writing commitments. I’m trying to keep up with my social media, but writing is still my number one priority. It’s important that we go on loving what we do, fellow writers. Don’t let the flood of tasks drown you. Keep that passion burning bright.

Photo credit: ID 18985452 © Jozef Micic | Dreamstime.com

How do you manage your priorities? What is your magical formula for making it all work?

About Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier has written twenty novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. Juliet's most recent series was Blackthorn & Grim, which one reviewer referred to as 'Holmes and Watson in medieval Ireland'. The three Blackthorn & Grim books were published by Penguin Random House US and Pan Macmillan Australia. They are also available in audiobook from audible.com. Juliet is currently working on a new fantasy trilogy for adult readers, Warrior Bards. When not writing, Juliet is kept busy by her small tribe of elderly rescue dogs.

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The author before and after learning how to use a semicolon

I get approached from time to time by aspiring new writers, asking for advice on how to get started. The longer I’ve been doing this, the harder it gets to answer them. At this point I’ve been in the game nearly 20 years, so how do I condense what I’ve learned into a quick conversation or a brief email? And what if they are interested in a completely different type of writing than the kind that has made me as rich and famous as I currently am? (Hmmm – now that I think about it, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But I digress…)

So how to advise them? Do I lecture them on the ever-changing industry? Warn them of the dangers of reading the works of Clive Cussler? Or simply hand them a dog-eared copy of The Elements of Style and turn around and run? Depending on who asks, it’s hard to determine which advice would be the most useful.

When in doubt, fire up the time machine!

I’ve been binge-watching the old Stargate SG-1 TV series recently, and several of the stories focus on time travel, a concept that has always fascinated me. In a couple of episodes, the main characters manage to pass messages to versions of themselves who are living in a different time.

This got me to thinking: what kind of messages would Current-Day Keith send to Past Keith?

After considering obvious nuggets like “buy stock in Amazon” and “don’t enroll in Trump University,” I started thinking about what I would tell Keith The Writer From The Past (or, KTWFTP). Since SG-1 episodes usually incorporate a ticking clock or some other increasingly urgent complications, I decided to ramp up the pressure, and limit myself to five pieces of advice. Here’s what I came up with to share with the younger (and yes, hairier) Keith.

1. Know your genre – and its conventions.
Probably the biggest – and hardest – lesson I’ve learned as a writer is that genre matters. Historically the genre of a book just wasn’t something I thought or cared about – as a reader or as a writer. But after writing one hard-to-categorize manuscript after another, the first message I would pass on to KTWFTP is to pick a damn genre already. It will make things SO much simpler.

Why? Genre simplifies things by setting expectations. It helps an agent sell your book. It helps a publisher market your book. It helps a reader choose your book.

And if you’re self-publishing, it helps YOU market your book, which is utterly crucial. In an era when anybody can publish anything, you need a way to make your book stand out to your potential readers. For self-published books, currently one of the most powerful marketing tactics is to get your book listed in a well-established promotional vehicle like BookBub. But here’s the thing: just as in conventional publishing, which many tend to view as adhering to an “evil gatekeeper” model, there’s no guarantee BookBub will accept your book. They are picky about the content of the books they promote, and IF they accept your book, the fees they charge can vary, based on – wait for it – the category your book fits into. Dang, looks like those pesky gatekeepers are hard to avoid, even in self-publishing.

On top of all this, with each genre may come an accompanying set of conventions and expectations, which might include the acceptable length for your book, and even some rules for what can or cannot happen in your story – e.g., the HEA or HFN (Happily Ever After or Happy For Now) endings required for most types of romance novels.

I know, I know – all this talk of rules can really go against the grain for an artistic soul eager to express his or her unique vision. Believe me, I get it. And hey, the reality is that you can write anything you want. But if you actually want to sell what you wrote, ignore the rules of genre at your own peril. Been there, done that, and no, I didn’t get to quit the day job.

Okay, I think I hear my Stargate clock ticking away, so let’s move on to the next message-to-self from Time Traveling Keith.

2. Give your story an antagonist. 
This is another area where I definitely need to up my game. While there are bad or evil characters in my fiction, I’ve historically not been very good about creating a single identifiable “bad guy” for my readers to root against. I’ve posted about this before here at WU, and hypothesized that my own lack of a personal nemesis (other than Clive Cussler, of course) could be why it didn’t occur to me to create one when writing a story. Yet nearly every book, TV show or movie that I like has a clear antagonist. More importantly, that antagonist is often a VERY memorable character, so not inserting one into my story represents a major missed opportunity.

For the writer, a powerful antagonist can really amp up the conflict in your story. And for the reader, a clearly identified antagonist can make it MUCH easier to get emotionally invested.

So a key lesson that 2018 Keith wants to share with my younger (and okay, thinner) self is: give us a bad guy. (Or girl. Or shark – preferably with lasers.)

3. Go big or go home.
I love stories where the action is big, bold, even – for lack of better word – cinematic. But for some reason, I rarely have the nerve to write that way. Instead, I tend to “write smaller,” probably because I’m concerned with being realistic. But in doing so, I sometimes limit the impact of my stories. And that’s something I want to change.

If you’ve ever attended one of Donald Maass’s mind-blowing workshops, you’ve heard him exhort us to write about characters who say the things we wish we had the nerve (or the wit) to say, and who do the things we only dream about doing. As he states in his excellent book Writing the Breakout Novel, “The characters in your story will not engross readers unless they are out of the ordinary. How can it be otherwise? In life, ordinary folks do ordinary things every day. How much of that do we remember? Precious little.” By contrast, Donald observes, “In life and in fiction, when people act in ways that are unusual, unexpected, dramatic, decisive, full of consequence and are irreversible, we remember them and talk about them for years.”

For years.

It’s easy to dismiss that kind of advice as only appropriate for action thrillers or superhero dramas. But even in the smallest, most intimate and least superheroic situations, there’s no denying the fact that people are still capable of actions that are unusual, unexpected, dramatic, decisive, full of consequence and irreversible. So why not have your characters do things like these? After all, as Donald points out, “We read fiction not just to see ourselves but also to imagine ourselves as we might be.”

4. Obey the laws of cause and effect.
This is a lesson I wish I had learned sooner. I’ll confess that there have been scenes in my books that exist primarily because I thought to myself, “Hey, self – this would be a cool scene to have in my book.” From studying other books and movies I admire, as well as the never-ending series of writing how-to books to which I’m addicted, I’ve learned the importance of causality (a two-dollar word for the relation of cause and effect) in fiction.

Why does this matter? Your plot will feel far more tightly structured – and far more believable – if each action is caused or impacted by some other action or element of your story.

Conversely, a lack of causality can badly undermine your story. As an example, in an effort to follow my own “go big” mantra, I was brainstorming an idea in which a secondary character suddenly pulled a gun on some of my other characters. And I came up with a plausible reason for him doing so. I congratulated myself for ramping up the tension, and thought I had done a good job of matching the way one of my favorite comedic authors had given one of his novels an adrenal jolt with a sudden and unexpected gun scene.

But then I went back and re-read the shooting passage in that author’s book, and realized that the gun-wielding character had appeared as a direct result of something the protagonist did earlier in the book. In my own brainstorm, the character showed up because he was angry about something else entirely, and my protagonist just had the bad luck to be in the same building at the time. Causality FAIL.

In his landmark book Story, screenwriting guru Robert McKee takes the position that causality “drives a story in which motivated actions cause effects that in turn become the causes of yet other effects, thereby interlinking the various levels of conflict in a chain reaction of episodes to the Story Climax, expressing the interconnectedness of reality.” Highfalutin words, I know, but McKee makes a solid point, and I recommend his book for those interested in story theory. (By the way, did you know that highfalutin is one word, not two – and doesn’t need an apostrophe on the end? I didn’t, until I researched this post. You’re welcome.)

For a compelling – and far more down-to-earth – lesson on causality in storytelling, check out what the creators of South Park have to say on the matter. I’ve posted this video before (and yes, it’s safe for viewing in mixed company), but it’s definitely worth another viewing.

5. Be able to describe your book in one or two sentences.
Before you protest, I can say this with complete confidence: the simple reality is that EVERY writer at EVERY stage in their journey – from unpublished newbie to NYT bestseller – is inevitably going to be asked, “What’s your book about?”

This can be maddeningly difficult to answer, since you’re trying to express in just a few sentences what it took you several hundred pages to convey in your manuscript. But I can tell you from experience, when you don’t have a concise way of describing your book, you will lose your audience – fast. That might not sound like a big deal, but consider this: your agent could be having the same challenge describing your book to a prospective buyer. Not good.

So my big takeaway – and I emphasize that it’s MY takeaway, for Keith of Nowsville to pass on to YesterKeith – is that I want my next book to be VERY easy to describe. Yes, folks, I have drunk the “high concept” Kool-Aid, and have resolved to write a pithily describable book next time around. But I’ll delve more deeply into high concept in some future post. (Oh, and for extra points, try saying “pithily” out loud without sounding like a drunken Sylvester the Cat. But again I digress…)

Okay, but what if your story simply isn’t high concept? I still recommend that you put some effort into distilling it into a sentence or two, acknowledging that there’s no way to capture your whole story. So, if you can’t encompass the story in its entirety, what if you simply try to highlight the most intriguing part?

For example, maybe you could describe the “set-up” – the basic challenge being faced by your main character(s) early in the book. Or maybe focus on the climactic conflict – the big obstacle your character(s) must overcome to bring your story to its end. In either case, you’re not capturing your whole story, but perhaps you’ve included enough of a taste to whet the appetite of the agent or potential reader to whom you’re speaking.

High concept or not, this stuff is hard – believe me, I know. Time and time again I found it extremely difficult to describe my debut novel, which focused on two brain-damaged stroke survivors, but often in a humorous way. Particularly in a face-to-face conversation, try telling somebody you’ve written “a funny book about brain damage and stroke,” and imagine the stone-faced looks you’re going to get – jeez, talk about a “tough room.” That’s why next time around, I’m determined to write something that’s easier to talk about.

Food for thought…

I share all this in the hope that it might be helpful to both experienced and new writers. For experienced writers, maybe this will make you think about some hard lessons you wish you had learned sooner; for new writers, perhaps this will offer some food for thought and possibly a few shortcuts (or at least an express lane) to some concepts that might otherwise have taken several years – and/or several manuscripts – to figure out.

Again, I’m not saying these five messages apply to all writers. These are just what iPhone-Toting Keith would say to Way-Back Keith. That said, I hope at least some of these resonate with you, or get you thinking about something else you wish you had known when you were first getting started.

How about you?

Imagine you can travel back in time and share just five things with you-the-new-writer. What would you tell YOU? Please chime in, and as always, thanks for reading!

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About Keith Cronin

Author of the novels ME AGAIN, published by Five Star/Gale; and TONY PARTLY CLOUDY (published under his pen name Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

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Writer Unboxed by Greer Macallister - 1w ago
image by neskita_flickr

How many ways are there for your characters to fall short of the compelling, three-dimensional ideal? A nearly infinite variety.

Flat. Two-dimensional. Thin. Stereotype. Underdeveloped. Implausible. Placeholder. Caricature. Insufficiently complex. Not fully fledged. Mere outlines. Sketches. Functions, not people. Poorly thought out.

For our purposes today, let’s call them “bad,” and let’s talk about the best ways to make your characters as bad as possible.

(Of course, what we really want is “good” characters – compelling, interesting characters who feel as real as people – but sometimes the best way to figure out how to do something is to start with how notto do it.)

Make your characters stand-ins for ideas. All novels have themes, and plot and character serve to reinforce those themes, but that doesn’t excuse characters who exist only to embody an idea that you want to advance or debunk. Unless you’re writing allegory – and even if you are – you’ll want characters with more complexity. Any character whose only purpose is to make a point or counterpoint is going to come across as tissue-thin. If that’s what you’re going for, great. If not, beware.

Base your characters exclusively on people in your life. Fiction is fiction, and fictional characters are characters, not people. There’s nothing wrong with taking some inspiration from real life – physical appearances, snippets of dialogue, roles, conflicts – but the key word there is inspiration. If your imagination is caught by a man on the street with dark red hair the exact color of a copper penny, and that unusual physical feature sparks something you want to use in your novel, why not? Go ahead. But if you make the main villain of your novel a sharp-tongued, sharp-chinned woman with the exact physical characteristics of your irritating next-door neighbor and no redeeming qualities or inner life, you’re setting yourself and your novel up for trouble.

Define your characters only by function. Your story probably needs a protagonist, antagonist, and supporting characters of various kinds. Maybe your main character wants to rescue a love interest, or protect a family member, and all these things are just fine as decisions. But if the pretty teenage love interest is only a pretty teenage love interest and no more? If the dying grandfather has no personality, complexity or history? Then you’re delivering bad characters up on a platter, and readers will notice.

These are only a few of the ways to make sure your characters are bad ones – and obviously, failing to develop the character beyond an initial kernel is a common thread across all three.

Q: What are some other ways to deliver thin and uncompelling characters? (And how do you take steps to make them truly compelling instead?)

About Greer Macallister

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was an Indie Next pick, Target Book Club selection, and a USA Today bestseller, and has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain's Freckle Films. Her next novel is GIRL IN DISGUISE, about America's first female private investigator, Kate Warne (Sourcebooks, March 2017.)

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Longtime WU contributor Anna Elliott has written a new book —The Return of the Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery — with her father!

How cool is that?

Anna’s first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan & Isolde legend. She wrote The Pride & Prejudice Chronicles, her second series, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen’s classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths.

She was delighted to lend a hand with the Sherlock & Lucy series, and this story, firstly because she loves Sherlock Holmes as much as her father does, and second because it almost never happens that someone with a dilemma shouts, “Quick, we need an author of historical fiction!”

Charles Veley, Anna’s dad, has loved Sherlock Holmes since boyhood. As a father, he read the entire canon to his then-ten-year-old daughter at evening story time. Now this very same daughter, grown up to become acclaimed historical novelist Anna Elliott, has worked with him to develop new adventures in the Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery Series. Charles is also a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, and wrote The Pirates of Finance , a new musical in the G&S tradition that won an award at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2013. Other than the Sherlock & Lucy series, all of the books on his Amazon Author Page were written when he was a full-time author during the late Seventies and early Eighties. He currently consults for United Technologies Corporation regarding the company’s large real estate development projects.

Enjoy learning more about the story below.

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

Anna E: The world’s most famous detective and daughter must confront the Victorian era’s most notorious serial killer.

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

AE: It’s about identity – not just the identity of the Ripper, whose shadowy figure is on the cover, but also the identities of the main characters – who they are to themselves and each other and who they will become. Lucy is about to marry Jack and move into a new home, and they both have to come to terms with that major change. Watson is looking for fulfillment, and possibly romance, outside the Baker Street milieu. Will this change him? And how will Sherlock react to these changes in those closest to him? Plus, as with every mystery, the identity of the true antagonist is a big question. Of course we hope the answer will come as a surprise.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

AE: A diamond mogul pits Sherlock against a ring of smugglers. An alluring woman wants Watson to help raise funds for her charity – which is in dire need of funds. Lucy and Jack are contemplating a big society wedding and starting a new home together. Then a new series of murders begins in Whitechapel, and the Baker Street team learns that they, too, have been targeted by the notorious Jack the Ripper. This is a special challenge for Sherlock, who still feels the sting of not having captured the Ripper nine years before this story opens.

Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

AE: Watson and Lucy each write their own chapters in their own voices and they’re of course limited to reporting what they see and think at the moment. That can be a challenge sometimes, to convey to the reader what’s really going on and what the back story has been, while keeping things moving. But in The Return of the Ripper, we hasten to add, the switches in viewpoint work to the advantage of the story. Lucy is kidnapped and imprisoned and Watson’s reporting how the team is trying to find and rescue her. Going back and forth from their two viewpoints created a lot of suspense and was a joy to write!

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

AE: This story ends at a beautiful moment for the Baker Street team, and that moment was its own reward to write. Of course, we feel good about the nice things our readers have said as well!

Readers, you can learn more about The Return of the Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery on the book’s website, HERE, or listen to a fun, extended interview with Anna and her father on Max on Movies, HERE.

Write on.

About

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January, 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~40 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, or join our thriving Facebook community.

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Picture by Flickr user Ron Mader

George Bernard Shaw once wrote:

England and America are two countries separated by the same language.

But it’s not only England and America – there are numerous English-speaking countries separated by the same language. In fact, there are different parts of English-speaking countries likewise afflicted.

In general, I find the differences in the use of language fascinating. I’m sure by now the internet has taught everyone that the idea of ironing one’s pants has different meanings in the UK and the US. The differences in the way we use everyday words is one of the more interesting aspects of talking with people from around the world.

When it comes to writing fiction, however, these differences take on a much greater importance than mild amusement over using the phrase “fanny pack” in the wrong setting.

Know Your Character

As an Australian, it’s incredibly frustrating to read a book where an Australian character is reduced to a caricature of himself by the over-use, and incorrect use, of slang. I’ve come across Australian characters who seem to have eaten a Dictionary of Australian Slang for breakfast, and then vomited it all over the page.

Not every real-life Australian speaks like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin. In fact, most Australians – particularly those who live in cities – regard them with a certain degree of cultural cringe.

While I arrange to meet a friend for a late brekky in the early arvo, before popping in to the servo and the bottle-o on the way home, I’m not going to call her “cobber” in the process, and nor am I going to exclaim “Crikey!” at the first provocation.

If you’re writing an Australian character, you need to know how Australians speak. You need to understand the way Australians use slang, and the differences between Australian and American everyday conversation.

The same obviously goes for writing a character from any other country. I have it on good authority that not every Canadian begins a conversation by asking about the hockey, and most people from Ireland don’t say, “Top o’ the morning” to everyone they pass.

This goes beyond not using dialect, and straight to the heart of knowing your character – knowing how she speaks and thinks.

But… how?

The question, of course, is how do you do that? How do you learn how to write a character authentically if they come from a different part of the world to you?

It’s not impossible. In fact, I’ve seen it done incredibly well. But there is some extra work required.

  • Get to know people from the country in question. Talk to them. Not about your novel, but about life. Pay attention to the way they phrase sentences, and the way they structure their thoughts, as well as to the specific words they use.
  • Or use YouTube. One of the advantages to the wave of YouTube bloggers is that you can find YouTubers from just about every country on Earth, talking about everyday things. Watch videos made by people from your character’s country – inane unboxing videos, or vlogs about their lives are best if you want to pick up everyday language.
  • Reach out to the Writer Unboxed community. One of the great things about WU is that we have a community full of people from all over the world. You may find someone who is willing to read over what you’ve written, and help you get the dialogue just right.

In the end, it’s not that different to researching the language used in Historical Fiction. Much as a 16th century noblewoman isn’t going to talk about how “lit” last night’s ball was, an Australian isn’t going to complain about AT&T – or even the coverage on their cellphone. (We may, however, complain about the reception on our mobile.)

Know Your Audience

It’s important to note, however, that unless your narrator is from a different country than yourself, I’m solely referring here to dialogue. And even then, you have to find the balance between using authentic slang and making the dialogue understandable for your audience.

I was recently helping a friend out with some dialogue in his latest novel, and we had to draw the line at using the slang phrase: “Yeah, nah.” While that’s a phrase I use quite often, it’s something that may be jarring for his predominantly American audience.

It’s Not Just Countries…

Of course, the same applies for smaller regional areas as well.

If I was to have a character say, “Why don’t y’all come inside for some sweet tea?”, it would likely feel a little jarring if I want on to explain that she’s from Detroit.

Even as an outsider, I know that there are regional variations in the way Americans speak – and that, as a writer, it’s important for me to know where in the USA my characters come from.

The same is true of other countries as well. Someone raised in Brisbane will use language significantly differently to someone raised in Melbourne. And I’m positive that the same is true of people from Montreal and Vancouver.

Do Your Research

At the end of the day, regardless of whether you’re writing a novel set in 17th century Britain or modern-day British Columbia, it’s important to get your dialogue right.

Don’t  turn your characters into caricatures.

How do you go about making sure your characters speak authentically? Have you ever come across cringe-worthy dialogue from a character who is supposed to live in your region of the world?

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About Jo Eberhardt

Jo Eberhardt is a writer of speculative fiction, mother to two adorable boys, and lover of words and stories. She lives in rural Queensland, Australia, and spends her non-writing time worrying that the neighbor's cows will one day succeed in sneaking into her yard and eating everything in her veggie garden.

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

I’ve been getting some interesting questions while on book tour.

1 – Do you plan on all on your novels being so political?

And

2 – How come your novel doesn’t get more political?

The funny thing is, these questions actually don’t contradict one another other. In fact, they reveal a lot about how we think of art and politics. They are what happen when we think of art and politics as being two wholly separate things. Rather than seeing them as being organically intertwined, we like to think one can be applied to another in increments or measurements, as if making a novel political is as simple as baking: mix in X or Y amount of Issue A to a plot and you get a novel that is either somewhat or very political.

My life experience does not allow me to see—or even experience—things quite so simply. As an immigrant and a Latina whose recent novel deals with family sacrifice, love, generational trauma, secrets, marriage, adolescence, borders, and immigration, I’m often told things like my novel is very timely, or that the topic of immigration is very relevant right now. I’ve lived my whole life as an immigrant; to me and millions like me, immigration is not a “topic” but a lived experience. We cannot separate politics from our lives because our whole lives there have been policies in place that affect us.

Which is why question #1 (do you plan on all your novels being political?) so often creeps up. What a question like this fails to acknowledge is that all stories are political—the only difference among them is the role those politics play. If they are unperceived in a story, it is only because the people in it are lucky enough to have politics working in their favor: unfelt and unintrusive.

In stories like mine, in a time and setting where the current (and historical) politics obstruct and oppress the lives of the Latinx immigrant communities I’m writing about, the political becomes more visible. It is a force that we do not have the privilege, as much as we’d want to, of ignoring. Even if I were to write a fun, “non-political” story that makes for an escapist read, it’d be difficult to do so authentically because my existence as a woman of color and immigrant is politicized in the world we live in. The example I often give is this:

Imagine I want to write about a Latina woman who just moved into her dream home and wants to remodel her kitchen. She lives a happy life as a writer and is happily married to her husband and best friend of 6 years. I would draw from personal experience here because that woman was me 4 years ago, when we moved into our first home. Back then, I scoured the internet, got referrals off of Angies List, and set up appointments with contractors to get a quote. I love these kinds of projects and my husband is more of the tech guy in our relationship.

Still, without fail, even though I was the one who contacted and emailed them, each contractor that came into our home walked in, ignored me, addressed mainly my husband, assumed he was the decision-maker and the one who’d be paying for his services, and put his name on the quote. They wrote me off because I was a woman and deferred to my husband as an authority figure. One contractor, after I expressed that we’d be looking at other quotes because his was above our budget, commented that sure, I would probably find cheaper labor because there are “a bunch of illegals who’ll do it for less.” Standing inside my home, he used slurs against Mexicans and immigrants.

I’m sure this may be uncomfortable for some to read. I know because it is uncomfortable for me to have lived it, and it’s minor compared to so many far harsher realities. I also know that many may wonder: where is the writing advice in all this, where is the craft, where is the publishing industry know-how in this post?

It’s in all of it, because again, these things do not exist separately.

Politics, power, and identity dynamics are always present in life as they are in stories. Some people and characters feel them more than others. Some are lucky enough to not perceive them at all. Do you know what role these things play in your characters’ stories?

Which brings me to question #2 (how come your novel doesn’t get more political?). My novel does not actually get very political at all, if by “political” you mean the way many perceive politics today: through headlines, think-pieces, pundits from opposite ends of the political spectrum shouting at one another, and conflicting opinions that we end up agreeing to disagree on.

It is not a reaction to any one political moment; it is simply an honest retelling of whole lives. There’s a lot of joy in it, a lot of triumph and love, amidst the hardships my characters go through. There is so much more to their stories than their suffering. There is so much more worth knowing about them than only the ways that policy hurts them. I choose not to allow my acknowledgment of their struggles to erase the beauty of their lives.

Consider the ways we view the news, the photos of children and parents being separated at the border. Why must we only care when they are in tears? What if we’d cared starting before then, in their daily lives? What if we knew the story of the drawing a little girl made for her mother at school one day, or the words to the song they sing together as she’s tucked into bed at night? What if we were as invested in their joy as we are in their pain? What if the fullness of their narratives were being told and amplified all along? What if the craft of storytelling were more humane?

These same questions must be asked of the book industry as a whole. Until they’re addressed honestly, we’ll continue perpetuating the lie that stories about marginalized people are “issue stories,” only important as tools for understanding our hurt, when the truth is they’re important because we’re human.

I see my characters as real because they represent real people to me. I see fiction as an honest way of telling the truth. By this same token, the way we write is a reflection of how we view the world. The way we write is the way we live.

Have you thought about the role politics, power, and identity play in your characters’ stories?

About Natalia Sylvester

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. She is the author of Chasing the Sun, named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad and chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, is forthcoming from Little A in 2018.

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